Daily Readings, Day 3
September 28, 2017
John 1:19-28 (NRSV)
19 This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20 He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.” 21 And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” 22 Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23 He said,
“I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness,
‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’”
as the prophet Isaiah said.
24 Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. 25 They asked him, “Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” 26 John answered them, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, 27 the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.” 28 This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.
Today, we go for a minute from the sublime to the arcane. From mystical poetry on God-with-us new creation to an old argument about names and John.
All the names here – Isaiah, Elijah, Messiah, Pharisees, John, priests, Levites, Bethany, and the Jordan River. We’re in a real time and place that is really far from us. And we’re watching a set of real arguments play out. I’ll write more another day about this unfortunate phrase “The Jews” in John. Later, it will be one of many things that makes it easier for Christians to be anti-Semites, to devastating effect. Almost every single person in John is a first-century Jew, Jesus included, but John often uses this phrase – long before it turned toxic – as code for Jewish leaders or as code for the majority of Jews who don’t follow Jesus. In the first century, the intra-Jewish debates and tensions stirred up by Jesus and the Romans and so many other things were fierce.
Of all the names and jobs, the most important here is one nobody will claim for themselves and everyone’s talking about – Messiah, Christ, “the oily one”, or more formally, “the anointed one.” God’s person, set aside for great and special things.
John says, “Not me.” I’m just an old Bible verse. I’m a road-builder, a way-maker. And he goes back to baptizing, performing this Jewish rite called “mikveh” – the body doused in water for cleansing, for purity, for conversion. No matter how much he is inspected or misunderstood, John will keep preparing people for God-with-us, cleaning them, re-converting them for the big thing his gut tells him is coming.
Ask yourself today, “What am I preparing for?” What am I anticipating in the future, perhaps excited for, perhaps dreading? How do you feel about that?
If you are up for talking to Jesus, ask Jesus if he is doing anything new in or around you? Is there anything else Jesus is inviting you to be ready for?